Peta Raggett always knew she was different but now, as her health fails, she tells her story to Charles Anderson.
Peta Raggett started dressing in his mother’s clothes at about nine-years-old. Peta, born Peter, was never happy as a male.
“I always knew,” she says. “I knew I was different. It’s the way it is but you just try and get by and blend into the wallpaper to keep yourself out of trouble.”
But she was terrified that people would find out.
Growing up in England before emigrating to New Zealand in 1966, Peta says the word “transgender” was hardly even known for many decades.
“It’s only in the last 10 years that it has become more open,” she says.
But in those earlier days, Peta tried to suppress what she knew. As a boy, she was teased mercilessly and frequently taunted about how she could have been a girl. To blend in, she even married twice and tried to live a “normal” existence.
“But it didn’t work. Then, nobody will help you, so you go back to try and be and normal again.”
For a long time, Peta kept as lower profile as she could get. She would live two lives. The one that was in the public and the one was the “secretive” one that was at home.
It was her work that also originally brought her to New Zealand for a job as a joiner and carpenter.
“It’s a been a tough life one way or another,” she says. “I’ve had to learn to survive. Surviving as a transgender has not been very easy.”
As a young man she was humiliated and depressed and attempted suicide.
But it was her work that saved her.
“Everything I put my hand to I could achieve.”
She has tried everything from being a beagle breeder and model maker. Many of the model ships that are in Founders Park are hers. They have been loaned until she dies, when they will be gifted to the park, where she became a familiar face. For 17 years she worked behind the desk, greeting visitors.
“Some people would look at you sideways.”
Now, at 76-years-old, and with her health failing, Peta is telling her story to hopefully help others who are feeling marginalised to become empowered.
“In my younger days there were no books or anyone to find out from what to do or where to go.”
When she first raised the concept of gender realignment surgery with a doctor in 1985, all they recommended was Electric Shock Therapy.
It was only 15 years ago that Peta finally decided to commit to surgery to change her appearance to get breast implants. She gave away all male clothing that she had.
“Some shunned me, others said how brave I was … most people I worked with in voluntary organisations were very good and accepted me. A few sneered and laughed but I soon decided if they have a problem with me it’s their hang up not mine.”
Peta joined up with many community groups, taking an active role. However, now with her health in decline she has pulled back.
Peta says that she has no regrets about her life and has even been inspired to write a book about it. However, she is looking for help to try and get the colorful events from her past down on paper.
“I have enjoyed every minute. You only live once. Life is not a rehearsal, get out and make the most of it.”